wl - 33 Unpluggable H ow WikiLeaks e mbarrassed a nd e...

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33 Unpluggable How WikiLeaks embarrassed and enraged America, gripped the public and rewrote the rules of diplomacy S ECRETS are as old as states, and so are enemies', critics' and busybodies' ef- forts to uncover them. But the impact and scale of the latest disclosures by Wiki- Leaks, a secretive and autocratic outfit that campaigns for openness, are on a new lev- el. A disillusioned 23-year-old American official, Bradley Manning, downloaded from a supposedly secure government net- work more than 250,000 diplomatic "ca- bles": in effect, government e-mails. They ranged from the almost-public to those classified "secret". He gave them to Wild- Leaks, which has provided them to inter- national news outlets, including Ger- many's Der Spiege~ E! Pais in Spain and Britain's Guardian (which, in turn, passed them to the New York Times). The first slivers started appearing on November 29th. They range (see next story) from the explosive to the ho-hum. Diplomats being instructed to act like spies, snooping on Ban Ki-moon and filch- ing the frequent-flyer and credit-card de- tails of other senior UN officials, sounds like a scandal. So is the "shadowy" Rus- sian-speaking intermediary ferrying lav- ish gifts between Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi. But solemnly recording that the Russian prime minister is the real pow- er in his country, or that the Italian leader enjoys hard partying, or that France's Nic- olas Sarkozy is vain and mercurial, seems a waste of taxpayers' electrons. For the most part, the leaks' content is less important than their source, and the manner of the betrayal. Individually, the disclosures are trivial: some would be barely newsworthy if published legally. But collectively, they are corrosive. Ameri- ca appears humiliatingly unable to keep its own or other people's secrets. A good ex- ample of this is a cable about a firm sup- posedly involved in breaking arms sanc- tions on Iran. Marked "secret" and for American eyes only, it contains some spicy details gained from a "well-connected businessman". To establish that source's credentials, the cable's author lists his fam- ily connections (Iran), his place of business (Baku), his education (British), and his dis- tinctive sporting career. The name is not given, but could easily be deduced. Next time he is asked to share his expert insights on a matter of huge importance to Ameri- ca's government, he may be less helpful. That kind of casual damage to bystand- ers sits oddly with the founding mission of WikiLeaks, as outlined in 2007: "Our prim- ary interest is in exposing oppressive re- gimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, sub- Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people" of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behaviour in their governments and cor- porations." Early targets included high-lev- el corruption in Kenya; alleged illegal activ- ities in an offshore operation of the Swiss-based bank Julius Baer; the Ameri- can prison camp at Guantanamo Bay; Scientology's beliefs and practices; Sarah Palin's personal e-mail account; the mem-
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This note was uploaded on 02/06/2011 for the course POL 130 taught by Professor Simonelli during the Spring '08 term at Purdue University-West Lafayette.

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wl - 33 Unpluggable H ow WikiLeaks e mbarrassed a nd e...

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